According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, there are currently over 15 million former Catholics in America who now attend Protestant churches, many of whom comprise a considerable portion of our congregations. After serving some of the 15 million this past week on Long Island, I am reminded of the enormous opportunity that we face in equipping these saints for gospel ministry.
One particular skill that we can impart to the people whom we serve is the ability to understand and navigate through complex cultural differences. For instance, we must explain how Catholics often define their religious identity by the catena of religious practices that emerge from one’s ethnic, institutional, and liturgical experience. These are traditions such as feasts, crossing oneself, processions, ashes on the forehead, eating certain foods (or abstaining from them), genuflecting, holy water, rosary beads, venerating saints, lighting votive candles, or having Mass said in the name of a deceased relative. We have the opportunity to help our churches thoughtfully address these traditions, in ways that serve the gospel instead of subverting it.
 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S. (Executive Summary, April 2009)”, Pew Research Center, http://pewforum.org/Faith-in-Flux.aspx.
I would like to just at one bit of “caution” here. We are living in a largely post-Christian society, largely secularized, in which most people who *do* attend Sunday service regularly don’t attend for the right reasons.
A large percentage of lapsed Catholics who are now attending Protestant services do so for false reasons such as (a) simply because their spouse is Protestant, (b) they want a church that lets them live as they please (e.g. divorced and remarried), (c) they want a more “man centered” worship experience (e.g. health-wealth gospel, rock and roll singer-stage worship, etc).
The sad truth is that most Protestant denominations today are focused on “man centered” theologies and watered down Gospels. A large number of such lapsed Catholics go Episcopalian or some similar “high church” Protestant denomination, but as you know most such denominations are formally espousing unChristian living and doctrine.
While there are some lapsed Catholics who became Protestant because they believe the Protestant Gospel is true and seeking out a solidly Bible-based Protestant church, the fact is they are in the great minority.
My sole purpose of writing this is to point out that while there might be 15 million lapsed Catholics attending Protestant services, this by no means implies these are 15 million folks seeking a solidly Bible based Protestant church.
Thanks Nick. Good point. I agree that a great deal of so called Protestantism stands guilty as charged with regard to the flaws that you mentioned. God help us.
I would disagree with you, however, that Protestant converts from Catholicism who are now seeking a solidly Bible-based church are in the great minority, as you put it. Over the last few months of book touring with Holy Ground, I have encountered numerous evangelical churches in which over 50% of the congregation consists of former Catholics. Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle on Long Island, where I spoke last week, is at 70%. Wheaton Bible Church is at about 60%. I have seen these levels in LA, San Diego, Maryland (no surprise there), West Palm Beach, and elsewhere.
I think that most Catholics recognize this phenomenon, and I would even go so far as to say that it is at least part of what motivates many Catholic outreach initiatives (e.g., Relevant Radio, Coming Home Network, Catholics Come Home, often in the name of ‘JPII New Evangelization’). For more on this from a Catholic source (a bit dated now, but helpful nonetheless) check out Mark Christensen “Coming to Grips with Losses: The Migration of Catholics Into Conservative Protestantism.” America. 26 January 1991. p 58-59.
Comments are closed.